Scary T20 reality dawns…

One of my most enduring memories of the 2003 World Cup is of the tears building in a wonderful, hard-working and loyal lady’s eyes as the awful realisation finally dawned, and then the slow trickle down her cheeks.

She had been literally unable to accept the possibility that the match against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead would not restart – could not face the appalling reality that the host nation would not be featuring in the knockout stages, never mind winning it. Having dedicated much of the preceding four years of her life to the team and the event, she had been willingly persuaded that this was South Africa’s ‘time.’ An hour after the match was abandoned she was in a state of clinical shock.

The memories came back to me this week as the but similarly grim reality has slowly been setting in that the country’s desperately needed, new T20 league was heading in the same direction as the Global League which was postponed last year and then abandoned at a cost to Cricket South Africa of approximately R180 million, and that was only the compensation payment to the players who were drafted to the eight teams. There may be more to come.

Five of the eight private owners who paid deposits of US$250k for their teams are refusing to let the matter go while four have explicitly stated that they have no option but to pursue legal retribution should their contracts not be honoured and they are not permitted to participate in the new tournament.

“The Global League was the only one with the potential, in time, to challenge the IPL – that is what we identified and that is why we bought franchises,” said Ajay Sethi of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stars this week. “Most of the teams have made much more of an investment than the deposit and we remain committed to featuring in the new tournament. CSA has been dishonourable and they must respect the agreement they made with us.”

Legal costs alone might be debilitating for CSA even if they win (which seems highly unlikely) but the moment a charge is laid any chance of a tournament starting on November 14, as scheduled, would disappear. Two cancelled tournaments would leave the board’s already fragile reputation in shattered pieces.

SuperSport’s withdrawal as 49% shareholders in the new venture has also come as a sickening blow leaving CSA to fund the entire project – something it cannot afford. The original model saw the franchise owners funding their own teams with a title sponsor and broadcast sponsor significantly backing the overall costs.  CSA’s decision to discard private owners and keep the tournament ‘in house’, as Cricket Australia have with the Big Bash, has left  the governing body critically exposed – if it goes ahead.

But why is the league so important? If the financial reserves were up to nearly R700 million two years ago, surely the current business model was doing just fine. No. The reserves were artificially inflated three years ago by a compensation payment of US$30 million by the broadcaster of the Champions League which was abandoned halfway through its 10-year contract.

The ‘traditional’ income streams from incoming international tours can no longer be relied upon with broadcasters increasingly inclined to spend their money on T20 leagues rather than bilateral Test and ODI series – which is why CSA desperately needs to find a place in that market.

Domestic infrastructure costs have soared in recent years and without the additional revenue from a dollar-based league, drastic cuts will have to be made at grass roots, age-group and provincial level – even, perhaps, the in the women’s game which is finally, and thankfully, beginning to find meaningful traction with sponsors, broadcasters and supporters.

I remained stubbornly optimistic this time last year that the Global League would, somehow, get through a difficult first couple of years before slowly blossoming into the crop which would sustain us in the coming decades. It has been more problematic to be positive this year, with the desperate acceptance that it won’t happen – again – just a few days away.

Offer the four militant owners a 50% share in the teams they own and keep two in-house. Offer SuperSport a future share in the league for a cost-price production now. Find a title sponsor! do something. It’s supposed to start in 10 weeks and, at the moment, we don’t even know who and where the six teams are. It would be a challenge just getting bums on seats, never mind everything else.

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